Will the Real False Teacher Please Stand Up?

Recently, I’ve tried to make any Friday posts I do here at Cerulean Sanctum a little less intense. But after several hours of websurfing last night (I’m under the weather and it beats lying in bed!), I just had to write what I leave for you today.

There used to be a TV gameshow called “To Tell the Truth.” The premise was that a person with an unusual history, job, or reputation would join two imposters pretending to be that person. After a series of questions from a panel of celebrities, the panel would be required to separate the truth teller from the liars. The imposters got money if they managed to fool the panel. What made the show interesting is that sometimes the least likely liars managed to fool all the panel—the janitor manages to convince everyone he’s the former king of Fiji, for instance, when the real former king is sitting right next to him.

The moment of truth, the nexus of tension on “To Tell the Truth” was when the host would finally ask, “Will the real __________ please stand up?”

Last night I followed a link that led to a website critical of several well-known radio and TV preachers. You can’t be a Christian and be on the Internet and not eventually come across a site like this, but in the past I had ignored them.

Not this time.

I decided to Google the names of a few of those preachers mentioned and see how many places branded them as false teachers, heretics, or outright servants of the Enemy. Unfortunately, I started with a preacher I tend to like, Jack Hayford.

I’ve listened to Jack Hayford of The Church on the Way, a Foursquare church out in California, many times. I find him to be a breath of fresh air since he is one of the few charismatics on the radio, and because I have found that a lot of what he says resonates in me. He is a thorough Bible expositor and often mines those little nuggets of wisdom that pass by so many people when they read the Scriptures. He’s not a “charismaniac,” by any means; rather he manages to keep the fire in the fireplace, something I admire in any charismatic preacher.

I lost track of the number of Web sites that called Hayford a false teacher. Most didn’t like the fact he was a charismatic, that he tended toward a pre-trib eschatology (I’d never heard him preach on this, so this was news to me), and that he supported unbiblical political involvement—mobilizing Christians to vote for moral leaders.

Now I’ve listened to messages by Hayford several dozen times. And in all those times, I think I’ve ever truly disagreed with him concerning his message on tithing. Personally, I don’t believe in a New Testament tithe like Hayford does, but rather I see that everything should be open to being given as the need arises. I suspect that my view would brand me a wanton backslider in many institutional churches and denominations, but that is the reasoning I’ve come to. I know that Hayford’s view is far more mainstream, frankly. I’ve not heard every message Hayford’s ever preached, so I cannot say that I know all of his theology, only that I’ve found him to be reasonable and within the bounds of what is usually acceptable in the Church.

But what defines a “false teacher?” And if we apply that criteria to all pastors and preachers out there, would 99.999% of them have to rise if someone asked, “Will the real false teacher please stand up?”

Pick an eschatological scenario, say a pre-trib, pre-millennial outlook. You’ve essentially just called every pastor who does not hold that view a false teacher. Personally, I don’t hold that end times view. Do I call every teacher who teaches what I don’t believe a heretic? Am I even uniquely qualified to make those determinations if hundreds of years of church history have been filled with better men than me wrestling with just those issues?

How many times has the pastor of your church ever said something that was even a fraction off? Is his ministry now disqualified? Is anyone not standing now?

Is John MacArthur a heretic because he’s a cessationist? Is Jack Hayford a false teacher because he’s nota cessationist? If you disagree with “The Bible Answer Man” Hank Hannegraf, are you doomed to forever wander the earth as an enemy of God? Preterist or Amillennialist? Sunday worship or Saturday worship? Who’s in and who’s out?

By now this post has gone on too long, so I’ll cut to the chase.

At what point do we extend grace to teachers and preachers on issues that divide Christians? My reading of the Bible shows that Paul usually only assailed those who were way out there on issues that most pastors or preachers today would affirm as deviant. Is there any wiggle room on some issues?

As much as I believe the Holy Spirit guides into all truth, I just as firmly believe that grace exists for us who teach and preach when we goof up. I know the standard is high, and here at Cerulean Sanctum I try not to ever go down routes that are far off the beaten path theologically. I try to stick with “The Main and the Plain.”

So what do you, those of you who enjoy coming to this blog, think about this issue? At what point does someone become a false teacher, and is there ever any grace for pastors and teachers who stray from the rock-solid truth?

by Dan Edelen

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27 Comments

  1. Posted October 8, 2004 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    I think this is why the bible indicates a strictness in those that want to teach and lead. I believe we are to hold to the essentials of the truth. There will always be disagreements, I guess. It’s like my recent search for a church. As long as their doctrine was in line with what I know of God’s word, then I had a candidate for a church home. Anything else was false. Same with these preachers. We may interpret prophecy different or have other agreements but as long as the doctrine is the same, they’re ok by me. Anything different from the essentials is wrong and should be labeled as such.

    The problem for many is knowing the essentials!

  2. Posted October 8, 2004 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    —->I agree with MC Hendrick.

    —->I was a member of Dr. Hayford’s church for 8 years so I know something about him. First of all, at least when I was there, he plainly said he favored the mid-trib positon (NOT the pre-trib one).

    Second, he does NOT advocate political involvement ala the Christian Right model. What he did is gave out lists of people who represent his congregation in every area of public life from the school board to the city council members to the state legistlators to the National Congressmen and Senators from CA (where his church is located) to the President’s cabinet, Supreme Court and head of every nation.

    What he asks his congregation to do is simply pray for these people. That’s it. He doesn’t usually take political postions in church (or outside).

    If everyone prayed for these groups of representatives and government officials, perhaps our country would straighten out. Do ya think maybe?

    —->

    —->I agree with you on the tithing thing but he never pushed it like so many do today.

    —->By the way, he no longer pastors The Church on the Way. He recently was elected president of his denomination, The International Foursquare Gospel Church.

  3. Posted October 8, 2004 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    —->I agree with MC Hendrick.

    —->I was a member of Dr. Hayford’s church for 8 years so I know something about him. First of all, at least when I was there, he plainly said he favored the mid-trib positon (NOT the pre-trib one).

    Second, he does NOT advocate political involvement ala the Christian Right model. What he did is gave out lists of people who represent his congregation in every area of public life from the school board to the city council members to the state legistlators to the National Congressmen and Senators from CA (where his church is located) to the President’s cabinet, Supreme Court and head of every nation.

    What he asks his congregation to do is simply pray for these people. That’s it. He doesn’t usually take political postions in church (or outside).

    If everyone prayed for these groups of representatives and government officials, perhaps our country would straighten out. Do ya think maybe?

    —->

    —->I agree with you on the tithing thing but he never pushed it like so many do today.

    —->By the way, he no longer pastors The Church on the Way. He recently was elected president of his denomination, The International Foursquare Gospel Church.

  4. Anonymous
    Posted October 14, 2004 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    I have seen quite a few of these “heresy hunter” websites and even read a few books by self proclaimed heresy hunters such as the Bobegans who rail against christian pyschologists. The strange thing most of these “experts” seem to spend very little time actually proclaiming the truth and a lot of time attacking others for being wrong. MacArthur does this quite a bit too but I don’t want to see him condemned in like manner.

    I know who the accuser of the bretheren is, I don’t want to be involved with him.
    Windblown

  5. Anonymous
    Posted October 23, 2004 at 12:47 am | Permalink

    This is tough. We have a call to be discerning, but should we not give each grace for honest differences in opinion? The question over what is “essential” has been going on for the last 2000 years. Some guidelines that I use to evalute teachings are :

    – Does it the change the message of the Gospel.
    – Does it change the nature of God, Christ, or man
    – Are scriptures consistently twisted out of context, even when used to prove a “good” thing.
    – Do the teachings promote judgmentalism within the body of Christ.

    I happen to agree with you on the tithing issue. Many don’t and would actually teach that you are outside of God’s will if you don’t tithe. Bill Gothard actually lists not tithing as a potential cause of women having miscarriages. What do you think? Is that far enough out there to merit raising some red flags?

    Sozo
    http://www.reasonswhy.org

    • Posted July 29, 2013 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      Dear Sozo,

      I am most eager to know if you have a precise time and date, source of citation or statement by Bill Gothard where he:

      “Bill Gothard actually lists not tithing as a potential cause of women having miscarriages.”

      Thanks
      James

      p.s. we have a whole section on our website devoted to demolishing the tithing myth.

    • Posted July 31, 2013 at 8:26 am | Permalink

      Midwest Outreach was gracious enough to send me proof that Bill Gothard promoted the teaching that you may miscarry if you don’t tithe:
      page 13 from his Basic Care bulletin 9: How to Understand the Causes and the Management of Miscarriages which is published by his “Medical Training Institute of America” , Rev. 6/91. It is pretty clear that Gothard’s view is that God may kill a couple’s child if they don’t tithe.

      Don

      Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc.
      L.L. (Don) Veinot Jr., President
      http://www.midwestoutreach.org

      ****
      Our demolition of tithing principality is at:

      http://www.perfectpeaceplan.co.....y/tithing/

  6. Anonymous
    Posted November 8, 2004 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    To quote someone, the best of men are men at best. Where we as Christians fall prey is when we do not study fundamental theology and doctrine in which there can be no derivation such as the Trinity and Christ’s bodily resurrection. There are many different preaching / teaching styles and that’s ok as long as each hold up to biblical scrutiny. But if you and I don’t know the foundational points, then we can easily be mis-led. Pastor do need to be held to a higher standard but equally, Christians must know what the word of God says. Fool me once, it’s your fault. Fool me twice and you’ve proven I haven’t been studying scripture.

  7. Anonymous
    Posted September 14, 2005 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    I agree with you that we all can make mistakes (gospel/doctrine) in what we may share with others.

    However, what sets a false teacher apart is that he/she will do it in the name of the Lord (ie. Thus says the Lord, or the Lord told me, …) and their comments are in error. The Bible tells us that there will be (and are) false witnesses and prophets. What is the common denominator of witnessing and, especially, prophesying? A truth which is claimed to have been derived from God! Then comes correction by highlighting the error and still such teachers continue with false teachings!

    Interpretation of future events is just that, interpretation, and we wait for the events to occur. Yet, when some prominent ‘ministers’ go as far as dismissing the completion of the work of Christ on the cross, how should we take such preachers/teachers???

    These comments are not directed at Hayford, since I don’t know of him, but I’m simply answering the notion of what makes a false teacher.

  8. ruth
    Posted May 25, 2008 at 12:21 am | Permalink

    I attended The Church On the Way for a good number of years. They are Pentecostal which means they believe in tongues, prophecy and other manifestations of the Spirit. Simply because this is controversial to non-Pentecostals does not automaticly make their leaders false teachers. They weren’t spiritually goofey (although I admit the Elders tended to be).

    J. Hayford taught a well-balanced theology with a few minor exceptions.

    There was a definate pecking order of heirarchy that felt painful but it was nothing cultish.

    They taught 10% tithing but did not beat the congregation over the head about it. Fund raising was kept low key rather than high pressure. I found that refreshing.

    A few of the Pastors entrusted to the position of helping members were unkind to parishoners who fell on hard times. This was wrong and unbiblical but not heresy.

    The church did promote an openly pro-Republican stance during both teaching and prayer, and did indeed offer leaflets by a certain Christian political organization on who they recommended be voted into office. Although this was unwise it was not heretical.

    On the whole TCOTW did as well as its contemporaries and with far less scandals.

    • Tash
      Posted January 15, 2009 at 12:31 am | Permalink

      I’ve only just discovered these “false teacher” websites, and I didn’t realise how many of them were out there.
      Some of them have almost every well-known evangelist / preacher / ministry in the world on their list of “wolves”.
      I always thought we were supposed to know wolves by their fruits, not necessarily by their doctine, since Satan himself can cite perfect doctrine.

      It was good to see Ruth refer to things that were said/done at the church as “unwise”, or “unbiblical” but not “heretical”. If we don’t allow for error we will not be able to accept any teacher.

      Some say that God will judge these teachers saying “depart from Me, I never knew you” because they are preaching wrong doctrine. Yet from my understanding, He never knew them because their hearts were far from Him. If we know that our teacher / pastor has a heart for God, and preaches the trinity / divinity of Jesus / the resurrection, then surely we can allow for his/her humanity, even if he or she occasionally says “The Lord told me…”. I think all of us can make that error – hear something in our mind and think it’s from God. Surely discernment is something that can always improve and grow, as we learn to recognise His voice?

      I’m all for discernment in the church, but it’s easy to point the finger when you are not the one who is up the front of the church, and you probably couldn’t do any better in their shoes. I disagree with the ministers at my church sometimes. It’s easy to be critical, so I try to avoid becoming critical and pray for them instead, recognising they have a hard job to do. I don’t think I could do it.

      It’s very refreshing to come across your website and to hear the voice of reasonableness.

      • Posted January 15, 2009 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

        Tash,

        Each of us must look in his own heart and see his own sin, his own inadequacies, and his own areas in need of growth before we start pointing to those same flaws in others. That’s why maturity is needed. The mature have dealt with some of those things. It’s also why the oldest ones walked away first from the attempted stoning of the woman caught in adultery in John 8.

        • Tash
          Posted January 16, 2009 at 4:19 am | Permalink

          I agree. Lack of maturity seems to be a key feature of those who point the finger.

    • Nancy
      Posted September 9, 2013 at 7:43 am | Permalink

      Dear Ruth; you are being very kind. I also attended the Church on the Way for many years and understand what you are saying . . . pecking order, etc. My final resting point of the past is that, Mr. Hayford never intended to hurt anyone, but his false teaching on tithing and submission did in fact hurt people because a leaven does grow and this is where the pecking order came from. Folks there is only one way out of this; and this is to hold Jesus Christ at the center of all our beliefs. He is the one who died for us; not any minister of the gospel. Let’s learn to exegesis his word in a manner that will bring him honor. All this extra stuff at trying to extract money in order to fulfill one’s own goal (of course many will say it’s God’s goals) is not right!

      • Posted September 9, 2013 at 8:08 am | Permalink

        Nancy,

        As someone who does not believe there is a NT tithe, I wonder if we have to put that in the same category as paedobaptism vs. credobaptism. I wonder if holding the “wrong” side makes one a “false teacher.” In the case of NT tithing, you’d have to throw out almost the entire branch of Christianity that arose from the Azusa Street revival, which pretty much means all of Pentecostalism is guilty, including Hayford’s Foursquare churches. I mean, I can see why NT tithing is taught in many churches; I just don’t see it reflecting current NT realities (especially since even MORE is asked of believers after Pentecost).

  9. Mark
    Posted December 20, 2008 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Dan,

    Your comments represent a point well taken. In looking at this issue for quite some time, there are several things I notice.

    Most (if not virtually all) of those who are always trying to find false teaching or heresy behind every bush never state precisely just what constitutes those two things. They don’t take the time to give a truly Biblical definition of what makes a teaching false or what makes a view heresy. Instead, they just repeatedly (1) harp about how we have to avoid false doctrine then (2) point to a teaching or person they don’t like, (3) label the teaching as false or heresy or label the person as a false teacher or even heretic, and (4) whatever “evidence” they provide to support their assertion is too often slanted because it is presented from their denominational bias.

    Too many times when someone reads critical material, they just assume the writer knows what he is talking about (especially if he sprinkles a few Bible verses in among his accusations) and does not really reflect on whether the critic’s position is actually Biblical in the first place.

    If a person starts with the presupposition that his/her denomination or theological background is always 100% correct about all matters – instead of first fairly examining that denomination or background to see if it really does line up with what Scripture says in context – then that person could make anyone look like a dangerous false teacher. And I am not only talking about pentecostals or charismatics who have been labeled as such; I have seen websites run by people who charge non-charismatic evangelicals or fundamentalists with promoting false teaching as well.

    It is my firm observation that terms such as “false teacher” and “heretic” have become very emotionally charged terms, yet some people who act as though they have a divine mandate to keep everyone in the church world straight throw these terms out at anyone they have a problem with, and do so with seemingly reckless abandon. I wonder if the people who do this ever stop to ponder the possibility they could be guilty of defaming someone’s character.

    Dan, to answer your rhetorical question about extending grace to fellow christians who might not have all their theological “i’s” dotted, here is something that everyone who wonders about this issue needs to realize: not only is it easy to accuse the other party of promoting erroneous doctrine, but a lot (if not all) of the heresy hunting people refuse to allow any variation on doctrinal questions because of fear. They argue that it is dangerous to tolerate any differences of any sort on doctrinal issues about which believers have not always agreed. Their reasoning goes like this: if we allow any variation, we will inevitably allow false teaching, then heresy, and the church will start down that slippery slope into apostasy from which there is little chance of recovering. In other words, to the heresy hunter, calls for grace, unity or toleration about differences is, de facto, compromising Scripture.

    In light of this, it is no wonder you don’t see more effort to deal with christians who come from a different “stream” within the larger “river” of Christianity. Once you become pre-occupied with differences per se and do so within a fear context, you naturally will not extend grace or respect to those whom you view as being detrimental to the church.

    Now while we should all agree that Scriptural truth must be defended, we should also agree that it is wrong to pin labels on people without first establishing an accurate definition of what constitutes error.

    • Joan Andrew
      Posted May 9, 2013 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

      I really like your explanation of this subject, thankyou.

  10. Michael A
    Posted June 24, 2009 at 4:29 am | Permalink

    Jack Hayford is the most effective deceiver in churchianity.

    I know him and his theology – and only the blind can call him anything but what he is: a False Teacher.

    Sadly, those who follow him (and worship him) cannot see the truth, but then, that is just how the LORD says it will be.

    Better to follow the LORD than to trust in men, especially men like Jack W. Hayford!

    • Posted June 24, 2009 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      Michael,

      I don’t normally delete reader comments, but if you can’t substantiate your claim about Hayford, I’ll have to delete your comment. You just can’t go around calling someone a false teacher without substantive proof. I let you have two days before your comment is deleted.

      Sound reasonable?

    • Posted June 24, 2009 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      Michael, one last thing…

      It might be helpful for me to know which known Christian leaders pass the standard of being true teachers.

      • Proud Lutheran
        Posted March 1, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

        I am constantly wondering and asking myself “What would Dr Martin Luther say about all of the TV preachers and evangelists we now have, Would he agree with any of them or debate theology with them ?” Martin Luther, German Reformer 1483-1546 Started the Protestant reformation Oct. 31 1517

  11. William Floyd
    Posted October 29, 2012 at 4:15 am | Permalink

    I have a different take on this subject which I’ve seen none raise. Aren’t we all supposed to be of the same mind, speaking the same things? Is Jesus both premillenialist and mid? Did Jesus and the apostles teach the tithe and free will giving? When lumping together all of the most popular names in Christendom, one had a buffet of doctrines top choose from. The sad truth is that even the most well respected names in the Body are deviant in various areas of their understandings. What makes one false is when refuses to accept put admit the possibility that they could possibly be wrong in whatever doctrine they’re sharing, unless of course they were truly chosen, called, trained, and sent personally by God to share the things which they share. And I’m not aware that any of them have ever made such a claim.

  12. Shawn
    Posted April 18, 2013 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for your post on Jack H. He will speak at our church this sunday and I don’t know much about him. Did you read any of the comments about him from this site? http://www.rapidnet.com/~jbear.....eneral.htm

    What do you think?

    • Posted April 19, 2013 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      Shawn,

      That rant against Hayford lost me almost immediately by saying he is “hyper-charismatic.” I’m not even sure what that is, but whatever it is, Hayford’s not it. The person who wrote that probably has not met any charismatics. I also think the author is totally wrong about healing. Actually, the author seems to have some ax to grind against anyone who is a Pentecostal, so I’m not sure how much credence I’d give to the overall piece. And I really hate it when someone is trying to tear down a minister by “six degrees of separation” games. In the end, no one is left standing. Did you know that John MacArthur and Jack Hayford are friends? If we play association games, we can take down everyone in modern Christendom just through MacArthur and Hayford.

      The best thing you can do is to go hear Hayford for yourself. Honestly, of all the preachers to have a show on Christian radio, I always got the most blessing, by far, from listening to Hayford. He has a very gentle, wise, grandfatherly way about him, and he takes great pains to always talk about grace. This makes him very human, and of all the radio preachers, I think he did the best job of recognizing that we are all dust. That said, he never failed to remind listeners of what Christ has purchased for them on the cross. Can anyone ask more than that?

  13. William Floyd
    Posted July 31, 2013 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    I would say that a person makes themselves a false teacher/prophet etc… when they teach opinion as fact and refuse to acknowledge what they’re doing, for one thing. A leader is in danger when they refuse to be open to dispute those things which they are teaching. I would also say that even in the supposedly little things, which many call nonessentials, there’s a great danger, too, because even in these matters the nature of God is either revealed or corrupted. When it came to doctrine and the mature of God, all of the prophets and apostles of Scripture were in absolute agreement. There’s no way that they would ever say such things as let’s agree to disagree or consider some things to me no essentials. This is just a cop out.
    When it comes down to the one who is actually promoting error, there’s a degree of grace available to them. Oftentimes, they do so out of ignorance; which though not necessarily damning does bring about severe consequences. But there are actually a great many leaders, including the famous ones, who KNOW that they’re teaching error and continue to do so because of various reasons like power, prestige, finances, ego, etc… They’re the ones who are just wicked.

  14. William Floyd
    Posted July 31, 2013 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    I’d also like to say that what I’ve found is that the spirit within the person isn’t necessarily revealed through the error they may disseminating, but in their reaction to opposition.

  15. linda
    Posted September 9, 2013 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Hi Dan,
    I think that there are good comments here. I agree that false teaching and corruption happens because of greed, power, lust, ego, etc. Any teacher or preacher who is conducting ministry under these spirits, so to speak, will lead others into detrimental error and possibly death. The Bible says that the end of these corruptions leads to death.

    How do we know if our leaders are being deceived or being intentful in false preaching and teaching? Eventually, it’s the fruit or the end result. A teaching or preaching that ends in devastation of the saints is not from God. Leaders using teaching as manipulation, promoting ungodly types of fear, bribery tactics, so to speak, to get what they may need such as ‘money for keeping their ministry going’, is stepping well out into no man’s land, I think. Certainly no land belonging to God. If these are continual practices or even serveral times a year practices, I would say that person or ministry is false.

    God never uses people in that way. He doesn’t have to and it is not his nature and I believe it is not ever in God’s mind. We understand this because God does not manipulate us to salvation. His dealings with people are honest and full of integrity.

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